December 11, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Christmas, the delightful guidebook to human salvation

Cynthia DewesLife begins with the birth of a baby. This is not exactly a startling revelation until you apply it to Christmas, and Advent is the time we do just that.

When a baby arrives, time stops. The entire household revolves around when Baby is awake, or needs to eat, sleep or be cuddled. It involves rescheduling other family members’ lives to accommodate this, plus allowing lots of time just to admire and enjoy this new wonder boy or girl.

As usual, God planned exactly the right event to grab human attention and illustrate the means for our salvation in a way we could understand. It is this, the feast of Christmas, which reveals for us the mystery of God-made-man in the context of human experience. Our journey to God takes place in human life, and it is Christ’s example which can lead us through it to a happy ending.

So we follow Christ’s story, beginning as an infant born into a poor and humble family. He accompanies his parents to religious observances in the temple, helps his dad in his carpenter shop and is respectful to his mother. Although there are unusual signs in his life (the shepherds and Magi in Bethlehem, or his preaching to elders in the temple, claiming to “go about my Father’s business”), Jesus is generally considered to be an ordinary Jewish boy.

This family story also demonstrates the necessity and power of love. Jesus is obviously loved by his parents, e.g. the frantic search for him when he is thought to be left behind in the temple. Mary, who has been forewarned of the impending grief in her life, nevertheless faithfully creates a loving and nurturing home. The result is a Holy Family in more ways than just the fact of Christ’s presence.

St. Joseph, also informed early on of his part in God’s plan, accepts this great responsibility with strength and affection.

In the current “Sacred Spain” exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, my favorite painting there is of Joseph and the Christ Child. The father is smiling indulgently at his charming curly-headed toddler, who is looking a bit naughty.

Jesus and his family have the respect of their community. And Jesus has dear friends, as in Lazarus and his sisters. He appears to be a good man, the son of good parents, apparently living the usual modest but satisfying life.

When the miracles begin to occur in Jesus’ adult life, more and more people come to understand that he is the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. Again, the miracles grab our attention in order to make us attend to the message. This is especially necessary because Christ presents radical new ideas: obey the spirit of the law, not necessarily its letter; love your neighbor as yourself; turn the other cheek to those who harm you. Then he says it is up to us to apply what we have heard.

At this point in Advent, the

anticipation-time, the time of growing excitement, the message begins to sink in. Of course, being human, we have added a few odd embellishments to the occasion: little drummer boys, merry gentlemen, sleigh bells jingling, fir trees lit with candles and depictions of angels ranging from majestic to insipid. They may be irrelevant or even silly, but if they add to our understanding of Christmas that’s OK.

Because this is the time when God presents the greatest gift we could ever receive: the promise of rich human life here on Earth, and the transcendent life to follow forever in God’s presence.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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